Sunday 28 July 2019 sees the annual Fete des Vins at Bonny-sur-Loire.(45 Loiret, Centre-Val-de-Loire), Although close to both Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire, the wines here are from the Coteaux Giennois (from near the town of Gien on the Loire) – whites from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin, reds from Pinot Noir and Gamay. Chenin Blanc is the typical white grape variety in the Loire Valley wines – especially in the main section of the river – Bonny is on the cusp between the dominance of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon from up-river vineyards such as Sancerre.
Although they lack the finesse of their more famous neighbours, they are good little wines and represent good value.
For more info see www.tourismeloiret.com
At the edge of the Loire Valley, Bonny is pleasantly situated. Located on the banks of the Loire, 160 km from Paris and 80 km from Orleans, the city is accessible from the A77 autoroute and the N7, which has always been a classic route down to the Cote d’Azur from Paris .
In ancient times, Bonny was an important city. In the 8th century Bonny belonged to the diocese of Auxerre, but was seized by the King after the death of Bishop Hainmar in 769. At the beginning of the 15th century, Bonny was a stronghold where the English had settled. Joan of Arc, before taking the King Charles VII to Reims for his coronation, was besieging the city by one of the captains, Admiral Culan, who quickly seized the city. In the wars of religion Bonny underwent serious conflict between Catholics and Protestants.
On 14-15 July 2017 the village of Pouilly-sur-Loire (58 Nievre, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté), best known for its crisp Sauvignon Blanc Pouilly-Fumé wines, celebrates its wine festival on the banks of the Loire river.
When gathered, the grape is covered by a grey dusty bloom like smokey ashes from the fire. When the grape picker throws the grape into the basket, a cloud of microscopic spores is released, looking like smoke. It is also true that the grape is covered with tiny black dots, making it look “smokey”
It is important not to confuse Pouilly-Fumé (Loire Sauvignon) with Pouilly-Fuissé which is made from Chardonnay in southern Burgundy – or the local Poully-sur-Loire which is made from the Chasselas grape. The two Pouilly appellations are quite distinct!
Between Burgundy and Berry, the vineyard of Pouilly stretches over 1,245 ha on the right bank of the Loire. There are different types of soils:
- Limestones of Villers of Oxfordien (caillottes)
- Marls with small oysters of Kimméridgien (Terres blanches)
- Limestones of Barrois of Portlandien (caillottes)
- Clay-flints of the Cretacé (Flint)
The appellation area extends over the villages of Garchy, Mesves sur Loire, Pouilly sur Loire, St Andelain, St Laurent, St Martin sur Nohain, Tracy sur Loire in the department of the Nièvre.
The Pouilly Fumé grape is derived from the Sauvignon blanc, with egg-shaped berries in tight clusters resembling tit’s eggs. When mature these berries are covered in a smoke-coloured, grey bloom, which explains why the Pouilly wine growers talk amongst themselves about Blanc fumé (smoked white) to describe the Sauvignon grape or wines produced from it.
The word fumé also refers to the incomparable, universally-recognized aromas and bouquet (or fumet – smokey aroma – the famous gun flint aroma, released by rubbing two flints together), which comes from the outstanding land of Pouilly/Loire vineyards. Les Vignerons de Pouilly
The Telegraph (19 Aug 08) includes a boat trip up the Rhone Valley as one of its top 10 river cruises:
Navigating France’s mightiest river is a favourite for wine aficionados and foodies. A cruise through Burgundy and Provence gives you the chance to visit vineyards (think Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape), explore Lyon – the gourmet capital of France – and enjoy historic towns such as the fortified city of Avignon and the Roman ruins in Arles. The countryside is equally superb: its fields of lavender and sunflowers were an inspiration for artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, and as the river drains into the Mediterranean you’ll see the famous white horses of the Camargue.
The route includes many worthwhile stops for visits to suit all tastes, but it is also remarkably rich in potential wine visits as you’ll pass through appellations such as Costieres de Nimes, Cotes du Rhone (north and south), Lirac, Tavel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, St Joseph and Hermitage – and if you branch onto the River Saone north of Lyon you can explore Beuajolais and southern Burgundy!
It should come as little surprise that rivers and canals tend to offer good access to good vineyards – vines often grow best on the steep valley sides with their good drainage and aspect to the sun.
A more modest trip than the Rhone, could be a canal trip from Auxerre (89 Yonne, Burgundy) close to Chablis and down the Canal de Bourgogne to Dijon and the Burgundy vineyards; or a trip down the Canal Lateral de la Loire for Sancerre AC, Pouilly-Fumé and Coteaux Giennois. By using the Canal du Nivernais and the Canal de Briare you could even manage a circular route via Auxerre.
Of course, Rick Stein’s French Odyssey was based on a canal trip along the Canal du Midi and the Canal Lateral de la Garonne and included the vineyards of Bordeaux, Cotes du Marmandais, Buzet, Fronton, Minervois, Corbieres and the Coteaux du Languedoc.
For another set of options try Hilary Wright’s book Water into Wine: A Wine Lover’s Journey Through The Waterways of France which also includes itineraries in the lower Loire. Cognac, Alsace, Lorraiine and the Lot.
For more info on the canals of France see the website for VNF (Voies Navigable de la France) now much improved and in English!
Some of the Loire Valley’s most famous wines are likely to be in short supply and at increased prices in the next 12 months or so, following bad weather which is just one of the perils which winemakers face.
In the Spring the western end of the Loire, where it meets the Atlantic and home to Muscadet, was hit by severe frosts which hit just as the fragile buds were breaking – such that there will be little if any crop or wine from many estates. The vine can tolerate moderate frosts when it is dormant in the winter , but once the buds begin to break it can be very vulnerable. The Daily Telegraph (25 July 2008) reported that:
“Growers said yesterday that up to 70% of the Melon de Bourgogne grapes used to make Muscadet were killed by frost in April. A second bloom – which normally gives the vines a chance to recuperate – was also ravaged by cold and wet weather atthe start of the summer”
Then towards the end of June a severe hailstorm hit the vineyards of the Centre region, particularly around Poully-Fumé and to a lesser extent Sancerre. This is classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc territory.
It seems particulary rough on Muscadet, which has in recent years overcome its old reputation for producing cheap, thin, acidic wines – recent years have seen the appellation transformed with many more excellent whites from the region becoming available – still retaining their very dry and acidic character but with much more depth of flavour and fruit content.
For more info on Muscadet see www.muscadet.fr